Home theater usability - still sucking

If you've ever put together a home theater, you know that it isn't simple. The sea of connectors, cable types, and menus for setup are plain silly. I was reminded of this, again, when setting up an HDTV tuner for my wife's parents. I didn't mind setting it up for them, but it was still way too hard. Let's recap what it took to hook up that damn thing.

- You have to know the difference between component inputs and HDTV component inputs and you have to know which kind your TV has.
- You have to know that component cables are better than s-video and composite.
- You have to know the difference between analog stereo audio and digital audio.
- You have to know the difference between coaxial and optical digital audio.
- You have to know which video setting you want to run, 480p, 1080i, other?
- You have to know how to tell the HD box how to output the video format you want.
- You have to know how to tell your TV what format the video is going to come in as.
- You have to know which input on your TV your HD is coming in at.
- You have to understand that not all content coming in over the HD tuner will be in HD.

The mind boggles.

Companies like Mitsubuishi are working to make this better with things like NetCommand and FireWire connections, but compared to the computer industry, things seem to be moving glacially slow.

Continuing my infatuation with all things Apple lately, I'd like to see an iChat AV style video selector on TVs.

When I turn on my TV, it can show me my cable. When I turn on my ReplayTV, it can push the cable to the left and add my Replay on the right. I can then run the Replay in the right screen or select it for full screen mode. Next up, I connect my digital camera or iPod photo (whoops, don't have one of those just yet) and it just automatically presents that to me for selection. Certainly you could configure the auto items off, but for the majority of people, when they plug in a new thing, they want to use that new thing.

I also hate the color screen that has replaced static on TVs. I prefer it to the static, but if the TV is smart enough to know there is no signal on that input, how about showing me the inputs that do have signals? I'm specifically thinking of when I finish watching a DVD. I turn the DVD player off and then get to stare at a blue screen while I find the TV remote to change the input. When the screen goes blue, it should switch back to the "iChat AV like" multi screen selector.

Lately I've been reading all of these sob stories about how the big consumer electronics companies are facing stiff competition from "no-name" asian electronics producers. Apparently Sony can't sell as many $6000 TVs as they'd like to when their are folks selling similar, but possibly lower quality sets, for lots less. If Sony and the other regulars wants to continue to command price premiums, let's see them continue to step things up with usability. I will pay extra for convenience, quality, and simple design. Take my money, please.

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